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GOC survey finds high levels of public satisfaction in the profession

The 2021 public perceptions research found that confidence in the profession remains high, also showing an increase in the numbers of people who would seek assistance from an optometrist in the first instance for eye issues

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Pexels/Victor Rega

The General Optical Council’s (GOC) 2021 research into public perceptions of the profession has found that confidence and satisfaction in eye care professionals (ECPs) remains high. 

More than 2000 members of the public were surveyed for the 2021 public perceptions research, which aims to understand the public’s views and experiences of optometrists across the UK. The term ‘opticians’ was used in the research, the GOC explained, to avoid confusion for the survey respondents.

The survey results indicated that patient satisfaction remains high, with 96% of respondents reporting that they were satisfied with their last visit, and 97% satisfied with the coronavirus (COVID-19) measures put in place.

The research confirmed a high confidence in the profession, with 94% of respondents (or nine in ten) reporting that they are either fairly or very confident in the standard of care provided by optometrists, in line with and slightly higher than that for doctors, dentists and pharmacists.

The survey results revealed an increase in those who would attend an optometrist first if they had an eye problem, with 30% of respondents saying they would do so. The report highlighted that there has been an upwards trajectory in the proportion of those who would seek assistance from an optometrist since 2015, with the latest figures representing an 11-percentage point increase since 2015.

Over a third of respondents said they perceive optometrists to be solely a healthcare service – an increase of four percentage points since 2019. Half of respondents perceived optometrists to be a combination of both retailer and healthcare service provider.

Marcus Dye, GOC acting director of strategy, said: “We’re extremely pleased to see that confidence in the professions remains high, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We’d like to thank our registrants for their hard work during these difficult times to ensure the public could still receive eye care and feel safe doing so. It’s positive to see that the perception of opticians as a healthcare service has increased to over a third, and more respondents than ever say they would speak to an optician first if they had an eye problem,” he added. 

Dye continued: “We look forward to continuing to see these numbers increase and we hope registrants and the wider sector will find the report to be helpful in improving optical care practice.” 

Accessing eye care during the pandemic

Despite the pandemic disruption, 75% of those surveyed reported visiting an optometrist in the last two years. This marked an increase of six percentage points from 2019.

The survey found that 33% of respondents had put off making an appointment for a routine sight test during the pandemic, and 25% said they had delayed replacing or buying new glasses during the pandemic. In addition, the research found evidence of a shift in where some are purchasing, as 11% indicated that the way they buy glasses and contact lenses changed during the pandemic, such as making purchases online rather than in practice. This change was most common in those under 44 years of age.

As well as noting the high levels of satisfaction with the measures put in place by practices, the research also found a high level of acceptance of the digital consultation platforms, brought about as a result of lockdowns and social distancing.

If respondents had an eye problem, 73% stated that they would consider having an initial appointment by phone or video call during the pandemic, while 62% said they would consider an initial remote consultation after restrictions ease.

Reflecting on this, the report shared: “This still represents a majority and therefore this public willingness does potentially offer the opportunity for greater flexibility and innovation in service delivery going forward.”

The research also gave an indication of the levels of demand that could be expected in the months ahead, as when asked when they would be likely to see an optometrist next, 71% of respondents envisaged that this would be within the next 12 months. Within this, 13% suggested that this visit would be in the next three months, and a quarter (25%) suggested it would be within the next six months.

Commenting on the findings, the report acknowledged: “Given the level of service re-design and risk mitigation that the coronavirus pandemic has necessitated for practitioners, these figures which demonstrate strong public confidence in the protections that have been put in place, are an achievement that should be celebrated.”

When things go wrong

The survey found 10% of respondents indicated that they had experienced a situation where something had gone wrong with the care or service they received from an optometrist in the past. This is a decrease from 13% in 2019.

The report does highlight that, though this represents a decline, the proportion of those respondents who said something had gone wrong with their experience was higher for those who had visited in the last six months (15%) and the last six to 12 months (10%). The GOC noted that further investigation may be required to establish whether there could be underlying reasons for these figures.

The GOC report also noted a need to re-state or re-emphasise the requirements within the Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians and Standards for Optical Students around being candid with patients when something goes wrong and providing an apology.

While in previous years, the majority of those who indicated they had experienced a situation where something had gone wrong had received an apology (56% in 2017 and 58% in 2019,) this had decreased to 42% in the latest survey.

Defining the roles

In response to sector feedback, the 2021 survey also assessed how accurately the public identify the roles of optometrists and dispensing opticians.

Before seeing the definitions, 86% identified the role of an optometrist as the most senior or highly qualified. Eight in 10 (79%) suggested an optometrist has responsibility for testing vision changes, while 34% thought this was the role of a dispensing optician.

Near equal proportions of respondents suggested the responsibility for writing prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses lay with optometrists (58%) as with dispensing opticians (57%). The fitting and testing of glasses and contact lenses was more commonly identified as being the role of a dispensing optician (79%).

The GOC’s full Public Perceptions report for 2021 can be found here.